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Werewolf on the Defence White Paper

Written By: - Date published: 3:59 pm, February 2nd, 2010 - 24 comments
Categories: military - Tags:

Gordon Campbell has written in Werewolf an excellent pre-review about the Defense White Paper due for release in March. Needless to say whatever it returns with will be controversial because it helps to define the direction of the next few decades of expenditure and focus for our military.

It’d be more pleasant for the discussion this time around if some of the more hidebound and ossified of our commentators (of all political hues) had a read of this overview before the discussion begins. One important thing to remember is how the last major review came about.

Over the last decade, the boost in our defence capability carried out under Labour was a byproduct of the Defence Beyond 2000 evaluation carried out by former National Party/Act politician Derek Quigley. In brief, Quigley identified that spending on the armed forces had been spread far too thinly and he advocated an Army focussed approach in future, with the two other services largely playing support roles.

The logic involved was that quality, not breadth, would yield better returns both militarily, and in bang for the buck given the identifiable risks and obligations that New Zealand could rationally be expected to face over the next couple of decades. Once this framework was accepted, the scrapping of the air combat wing made sound tactical and economic sense. It wasn’t needed, it wouldn’t work and it was money down the drain.

Much as National had lambasted it in opposition, a great deal of the logic of Defence Beyond 2000 remains irrefutable, and its framework seems likely to endure. This time around, the Key government has made it clear to its expert review panel that reconsidering the air combat wing decision is not on the cards. Nor is any re-think of this country’s anti-nuclear legislation. Finally and despite all the criticism heaped previously on our levels of defence spending the Key government has made it clear that New Zealand is unlikely to spend more than the 1% of GDP routinely set aside in recent decades for Defence.

It is pretty clear that NACT is likely to want to assume a defence posture that is more orientated to our more traditional allies. But the posture in the defence review in Australia last year was somewhat weird. It seemed to assume a more hawkish viewpoint about the Chinese intentions and future capabilities than even the US military establishment had.

But as Campbell points out

Presumably, New Zealand hasn’t got the means or one hopes, the desire to travel down the strategic path that Rudd is taking Australia. Even so, our alternative course during the 2000s has not remotely meant that we have been pacifists, or peaceniks. During the past decade, our troops have been deployed in Timor, the Solomons, Afghanistan etc, yet without surrendering our ability to pursue a relatively independent foreign policy. By doing so, we avoided getting into the Iraq war. By contrast, if a National government had been in power in 2003, New Zealand would almost certainly have been militarily involved in Iraq, with all of the related security risks and diplomatic fallout that this illegal operation has entailed for Britain, and for Australia.

Come March 31, the public should therefore be looking very critically at the White Paper. They will want to see whether the strategic vision that it contains will put New Zealand at greater risk of being caught up in the military adventurism of our allies. As the US has found, the main threats to our security could well be the ones that our own leaders manage to create.

That is really where the debate should lie when the review gets released. Are we going to continue to follow independent foreign policy where our defence forces have been doing a very effective job. Or do we get sucked into daft conflicts that have little justification, few positive outcomes, and appear to be aimed mainly at securing trade deals.

The infamous example about how and why we wound up putting troops into Vietnam at the behest of President Johnson have some unfortunate parallels with why we are now back in Afghanistan. It bespeaks a resumption of the intellectual laziness in our foreign policy objectives that typifies National government.

24 comments on “Werewolf on the Defence White Paper ”

  1. Gosman 1

    Since this is a big Rah Rah on the previous Labour Government’s Defence priorities, (which I admit were reasonably good excepting the APC’s the Army got), are you going to mention the decision to send troops to Afghanistan including the SAS made by the previous administration?

    • lprent 1.1

      I believe it was in the quoted section.

      Yes combat troops went there. When their job was complete they were pulled out and we started putting in reconstruction groups.

      For some strange reason the current government put combat troops back in with a large PR contingent. Apparently both were largely aimed at the Americans.

      As I said – National governments tend towards being intellectually lazy when it comes to foreign policy.

      I’m unhappy with putting exclusively combat troops back into Afghanistan. I can’t see the point of what they’re doing there or how they’re going to be able to do anything apart from doing finger in the dike. But McCully seems to think it’d keep the yanks happy about trade deals – so I guess that must be a good enough reason to get soldiers killed. /sarcasm off

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        Or perhaps it is good battlefield training for them as well as giving our armed forces exposure to the operational ins and outs of the top military power on the planet.

        You don’t join the SAS because you want to help rebuild roads so I don’t think too many people are going to be upset over any military deaths.

        • lprent

          From what I saw of the yanks when I was in the army and the general comments of the RF at the time (and since), I’d suspect they would be one of the worst armed forces to learn from for the type of army we have.

          There are better places to deploy our troops where they can work with people we can learn from. The only reason we seem to be in Afghanistan is McCullys trade deals. I still haven’t heard a rational justification for us being there apart from that.

          • Gosman

            Aspects of the US military are not good it is true, although they have been improved out of site over the past few years. Petreus’ reforms of the US standard anti-insurgency tactics is a good example of this.

            Where they do excel is in Command and Communication. As they are cutting edge in this area and the SAS will have to be fully exposed to this as part of their deployment I’d say we are getting invaluable experience as a result of our combat deployment in Afghanistan.

            • ghostwhowalksnz

              The SAS are doing training for Rapid Response with the Afghans.

              No chance of getting close to the high tech capabilities of the US/Nato as they arent involved in the provincial battles let alone the drones etc which are done out of Langley and Nevada.

  2. May I suggest that we are substantially at odds with some of the key tenets of Australian defence thinking, especially about China, its blue water fleet and the broader issues of SE Asian stability? Links are one, probably sensible, thing. Integration is quite another.

    • lprent 2.1

      That is what most of Gordon Campbells article is about. But it is rather long and we generally restrict ourselves on words. So I pointed there, and pulled out a talking point.

  3. tc 3

    We have a defense force !!! Crikey I missed that meeting.

  4. BLiP 4

    Okay – silly question – do we really need a military force? Other than policing the economic zone, what actual benefit accrues to our society by maintaining the military? Wouldn’t Aotearoa increase its standing in the international community and have a greater role in world affairs if we were to declare ourselves neutral? The little Switzerland of the South Pacific?

    • lprent 4.1

      Yes we do.

      And if you look at the Swiss armed forces you’ll find that they are pretty damn large.

      • BLiP 4.1.1

        Since its you, I’ll take you word on it for the time being. I’ll have to do some reading, obviously. It all just seems a bit “boys and their toys” to me, really. You do know that “game theory”, the logic behind military expansion, was developed by a paranoid schizophrenic and has never been proved in any lab?

        I’ll shuffle off now and leave the lads to compare their firepower.

        • Robert Winter

          An anecdote. Many years ago, while staying with old family friends in Switzerland, they pulled out one night their weaponry – a military pistol for Dad (the officer), an state-of-the-art rifle for the younger son, and the biggest machine gun you’ve ever seen for the older son, all locked up in the attic of their house. Every year, they all went off for a couple of weeks military exercising. They told me of the array of hidden fortifications and defences around Switzerland’s borders, some of which I subsequently saw. Thye Swiss may have fought their last battle on home soil in 1602, but they haven’t forgotten the martial arts.

        • Darel

          Why the sexist stuff with “boys” and “lads”? I don’t think the female leaders of the UK, New Zealand, India or Israel at various times have been any more or any less appreciative of their perceived need for military power than previous or subsequent male leaders.

          The LAV3 purchase was a mess. I spent a bit of time trying to understand how we purchased more than cabinet approved. The vehicles themselves seem pretty good and much better than the M113.

          I think inter-operability is a big issue. However wide or narrow we define our force we need to be able to work with forces we tend to work with. One point to remember is that we never used our airwing to cover our deployments – we always have had some other country doing that role. So being able to communicate and use SOPs with them is useful. So our equipment needs to work with them. None of that precludes an independent stance or saying no to particular deployments.

          The material difference for this government might mean buying more American equipment, which isn’t necessarily bad. They might spring a surprise and go back to a third frigate. There is a reasonable argument for that. I can’t see how they save the money to buy the third frigate from current military purchases though, except some kind of convoluted PPP that sells off/ long term lease off of defence land.

          • ghostwhowalksnz

            The Cabinet approved the full 103.
            I dont know where you got the other information.

            The idea was that would fully equip our two light infantry battalions.

            But your premise that the army stuffed it up is true. It seems like they didnt expect the full order so they went for the best they could get and were surprised they did.
            Of course its too expensive to run and maintain the full 103.

        • lprent

          Apart from the straight military operations, we have to have them in NZ for handling disasters. In fact it is their major secondary role in most countries.

          But in NZ it is a pretty major issue because we have a country that is liable to do the shakes, bangs, flooding, etc without notice. You have to have a trained disciplined and armed force available on stand-by just for that. If you don’t, then you have Haiti issues in the wake of a disaster. As someone trained in earth sciences I’m acutely aware of how vunerable we are in NZ to those.

          In the military role, there is limited accessibility to us because of geography. However we are also on the end of a rather long supply chain, and earn almost all of our income from trade. It simply makes good sense to have a force to prevent threats to those trade routes.

          Of course there is always a possibility of invasion. The best defence against that is to make it expensive and risky. You do that by maintaining defence forces.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 4.1.2

        A better comparison is Ireland . Who dont belong to Nato.
        There army is something like 10,000 but with negligible Navy and airforce
        Our military is half the size of Ireland

      • Rich 4.1.3

        Ridiculously so.

        And reckoned by NATO to be of limited effectiveness in the (vanishingly unlikely) event of their being called upon to defend Switzerland. Sure, they have lots of hi-tech hardware such as fast jets and an amazing system of underground fortifications. But those would be ineffective against Russian firepower, and it’s not much good having an impregnable defence of the mountain passes when an enemy can just fly over them.

        Swiss defence is really a social exercise. It maintains traditional structures in society (military officers are favoured for promotion in many companies, for instance) and enhances the “difference” of Switzerland.

        There’s a small movement in Switzerland to scrap conscription, and rely on the fact that any enemy would need to defeat NATO’s entire home forces before reaching Switzerland, and if they did that, anything the Swiss could do would be completely useless.

  5. ghostwhowalksnz 5

    Its funny how military people still have batty ideas

    A third frigate ?

    Airwing ?

    Look the reality is National will cut what we allready have. ( History lesson they have done this for the last 30 years)

    One area that wont be missed is artillery. All western nations have too much and since we only went for 105mm they can be easily replaced by heavy mortars ( which ride in the back of LAVS )- brillant if I do say so myself

  6. Darel 6

    A third frigate is based on the idea that we have one for overseas deployment, one for NZ duties and one in dock for re-supply/ refurbishment at any one time. If I remember rightly the average operational days of the ANZAC frigates is about 140 days per year. So there is an argument for a third frigate – I just can’t see what is a lower priority to cut that gets you there.

    I haven’t looked at the documenst for a while, but my memory is that the 103 LAVs were ordered before cabinet appoval. I’d be happier to be wrong and maybe its in the select committee report of the time. I’m pretty sure the intent wasn’t to outfit two battalions though.

    Alright, I’ll hunt the select committee report to rely on that rather than my memory.

    • Rich 6.1

      For offshore naval work that doesn’t involve combat with a modern navy, HMNZS Canterbury (once debugged) will be perfectly adequate. So we pretty much have three medium-sized warships already.

      We are unlikely to have an essential defence need to fight a modern naval power, so the frigates are of limited use.

      One option would be to sell them (if a buyer could be found) and build two more Canterbury-class ships.

  7. Darel 7

    The AG’s report is here: http://www.oag.govt.nz/2001/lav-lov/docs/lav-lov.pdf

    Cab approval for $ to construct a capability was granted in May 1999, but not the number of vehicles (para 2.12)

    MoD sought a tender for 2 battalions without authority. Cabinet had rejected the two batt idea (para 3.46)

    Cab approves 105 LAVIII (para 3.60) for 2 batts.

    Yes, I was a bit off. More accurately I think the army obfuscated until they got what they wanted

    The AG comments include a section entitled :
    Pursuit of the project diverged considerably from Cabinet approvals in a number of respects

  8. Darel 8

    On the frigates:
    They have 220 operational days a year planned with 140 – 160 at sea.

    So if we always want to have the ability to have one frigate at sea at any one time we need 3.

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